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ARCID FIELD RESEARCH

A Report on Seminars conducted on the Mekong River in Border Cities of Chiang Rai, 21-26 July 2019

By Tarida Baikasame Research Associate

Asian Research Center for International Development (ARCID) Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand

ARCID Field Research Report No. 1 January 2020


ARCID Field Research A Report on Seminars conducted on the Mekong River in Border Cities of Chiang Rai, 21-26 July 2019 By Tarida Baikasame Research Associate January 2020 In cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, Asian Research Center for International Development (ARCID) conducted some seminars on the Mekong region in Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong, and Mae Sai Districts of Chiang Rai Province. The seminars were supported by Area-based-Social Innovation Research Center (Ab-SIRC), School of Social Innovation, Mae Fah Luang University (MFU). The purpose of the seminars was to gather more information, and enhance the understanding of the feelings of the people from the ground about impacts of the development in the Mekong River, with special reference to China. The two teams of academics would like to interact with selected non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to promote sustainable development to better people’s livelihood and environment. The team from MFU included Professor Lee Lai To, Director, Miss Tarida Baikasame, Research Associate, and Miss Yarinda Bechiku, Administrative Officer from ARCID, and Mr. Suebsakun Kidnukorn from Ab-SIRC. The team from CASS team included Professor Dr. Zhang Jie and Associate Professor Dr. Wu Zhaoli from Department of Asia- Pacific Security and Diplomatic Studies, Associate Professor Dr. Zhu Fenglan from Department of Asia- Pacific Social and Cultural Studies, and Assistant Professor Dr. Guo Jiguang from Department of Asia- Pacific Political Studies, National Institute of International Strategy. The CASS team arrived in Chiang Rai and was welcomed by the MFU team on July 21. July 22, 2019 Both teams traveled from MFU to Chiang Khong District to hold talks with Mr. Niwat Roykaew or Kru Tee, Chief of the Chiang Khong Conservation Group (Rak Chiang Khong), a 22year old NGO working on the local culture and environment. Background of the Group The major objective of the Group is to create concrete water resources management cooperation among the locals, NGOs, and the Thai government. The missions of the Group are to build a conservation network in Thailand and to participate in local development. The Group has been helping the locals to recover forest areas from logging and improve water resources management. It participated in the establishment of the Ping River Commission to manage water resources in Payao and Chiang Rai Provinces. The Group tries to build a model in water resources management for other river basins and a network to join and help the local government in Chiang 1


Khong. It creates a civil society strategy in alignment with the “1 City, 2 Models” strategy of the government and helps the local government in developing agricultural areas. In the past, the government wanted to use 3,000-4,000 rais of land in Chiang Khong to build the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and industrial areas. However, the locals did not accept this strategy. They wanted to preserve farming, the environment, and the old city. The Group thought that the government should use different development strategies suitable to the people and areas. It tried to explain to the government the reasons for preserving the locals’ livelihood and environment. It also gave the government suggestions to develop the district. The government accepted the Group’s opinions and suggestions and let the Group participate in the process of development. The Group cooperates with the Network of Thai People in eight Mekong Provinces, including Chiang Rai, Loei, Nakhon Panom, Nongkhai, Mukdahan, Bung Kan, Amnatcharoen, and Ubon Ratchathani. The Network wants to become the “Mekong Commission in Thailand.” It also works with Waterkeeper in China. The Group receives funding from many sources, such as the Thai government for research projects, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, and other sources. It plans to establish a tourist company called “Ban Kerd Mueng Norn” to be another source of income. Dams and rapid blasting projects in the Mekong River Mr. Niwat Roykaew, Chief of the Rak Chiang Khong Group, discussed with MFU and CASS team members on dams and rapid blasting projects in the Mekong River with special reference to China. The Group has played a key role in the movement against these projects for more than 19 years. With regard to China's rapid blasting projects, they include 146 points in the Mekong River from China to Laos with a length of 96 kilometers. 15 of these are located in Thailand and Laos. They aim to clear the waterway to support 500-ton ships. The Group and the locals disagree with these projects as they will destroy the ecosystem, waterways, fishery, and natural resources. Rapids in the river are a source of food for aquatic animals and birds. The blasting will cause the disappearance of these species. In the case of Laos, it can use 200-ton ships to pass this waterway and these ships do not affect the environment. The locals do not oppose trade and development, but they must not destroy people's livelihood and the environment. As such, they want to negotiate with China to reduce the size of ships and profits. The Group negotiated with a Chinese company that had developed this project in 2017. Chinese and Thai Foreign Ministers also held talks about this issue. The Chinese side said that it would reconsider this project. But it does not guarantee to stop the project. The fact is that China has already blasted rapids in the Mekong River in Laos and Myanmar. Niwat said that at present, Chinese ships could sail to the Chiang Saen Port. China can use R3A and R3B routes to transport goods. It could also invest in a high-speed railway project. As a result, it is not necessary to blast rapids in the river, as China has other options in transportation. The CASS team raised a security concern as a reason for the rapid blasting. Rapids in the river would slow down the movement of ships. As a result, the ships may be susceptible to crimes and terrorism. Niwat responded that there were no crimes around the Mekong River in Thailand's territory. There are patrol forces to inspect the area from the Golden Triangle to Pha Dai in Wiang Kaen District. The security problem happens in Myanmar, as there are many ethnic groups and armed forces. These people need money for their wars. In addition, people in Thailand and China are concerned with the armed forces that come with Chinese ships, as this security issue is a very sensitive issue. However, the impression is that China has been using this security issue to 2


dominate other countries. Notably, it has provided vessels for Myanmar and Laos to patrol the Mekong River. The locals understand China's objective in promoting trade and investment. However, it should respect other countries' sovereignty. Otherwise, this will give rise to antiChinese sentiments in this region. Blasting the river will change the course of the waterway, creating boundary demarcation problems between Thailand and Laos. This is a more important issue that China should take into account as well. Niwat said that China always professes to follow the discourse of “creative development,� but in practice, its Chinese firms are terrible. For example, in the case of banana plantations in Laos and Phaya Mengrai District, Chiang Rai Province, Chinese firms used chemicals in growing bananas massively and dumped the chemical waste to the river. The water is polluted, affecting not only the water supply but also plantations of the locals. In contrast, the locals have small farms and use less chemicals. He said that his Group and the locals are willing to work together with Chinese investments. In fact, they try to hold a dialogue with civil societies and academics from Hunan Province where most Chinese firms in the Mekong region come from. Regarding the dam issue, it has many impacts on the local people and environment. In 1996, Manwan Dam was operational thus decreasing the water level in the Mekong River. In 2003, Dachaoshan Dam was finished making the tide level of the river uncertain as the level depends on the release of water from the Dam. In 2008, Jinghong Dam was operational causing floods in Thailand when its water was released. It caused 85 million baht worth of damage. There were also many monsoons in Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong, and Wiang Kaen Districts. When the 292-meter Xiaowan Dam was operational in 2010, the Mekong River was very dry. Ships were unable to sail from Thailand to Laos for 7 days. As such, locals began to recognize that changes in the river could be caused by the dams. After 7 days, they went to see the Salween River which has its headwaters located in the Himalayas, the same as the Mekong River. It turned out that the Salween River was not dry. This drought was the most severe in the Mekong River in 60 years. China has built 28 dams, 10 are finished, and 2 are under construction. It should release water in the monsoon season and keep water in the dry season. In contrast, it releases water in the dry season for water transportation and keep water in monsoon season for electric production. It is an irregular practice. In the monsoon season, fish will migrate to breed in the river while in the dry season, local plants would grow on rapids. These plants are a source of food for birds and the fish that also lay eggs on rapids. When water floods rapids in the dry season, life cycles around this area will disappear. This situation also affects the change in the water level and the disappearance of sediments in the river. A study by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) found that if all dams are completed, it will cause the loss of 97 percent of sediments in 2040. These sediments are necessary for the agriculture as they contain natural fertilizers from the river. The Group helped the locals to conduct research to study the ecosystem in the community, situations of the Mekong River, and impacts of the river on people's livelihood and environment. It issued a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping through the Chinese Embassy in Thailand 10 years ago, but it had no response. China always keeps quiet while it continues with its plans. In 2019, the Group sent a letter to the President again, aiming to call for talks as it understands that both sides have a different point of view. The talks are meant to be an opportunity for both sides to seek ways to solve problems and develop the river together. China said that the lower stream of the Mekong River until the end in Vietnam receives just 13.5 percent of the water from China. However, according to the Group, the river in Chiang Khong District receives 95 percent of the water from China. Jinghong Dam is located 300 kilometers north of Chiang Khong. If China closes the dam, it will cause severe damages in this area. Not only the Jinghong Dam but also the Pak Bang Dam in Laos, the nearest dam to Chiang 3


Khong District, can cause negative effects. The Pak Bang Dam was built by the Chinese-Datang Group. Niwat revealed that it may be easier to have access to the Chinese government in the near future. This is because China will know more about Thai civil society and responses to Chinese projects from the ground level. Governments of the Mekong region are ready to approve Chinese projects. As such, the Chinese government and firms should pay more attention to the local level. After the delivery of the letter to the Chinese President by the Group, the Chinese side issued a statement with 4 points in a response to the accusations. This is a positive sign from China, although the Group did not agree with the statement. However, China wants to change its strategy and instruct its firms to follow the rules and regulations of the host country. Otherwise, they will be put into the government’s blacklist. The Chinese government also understands that the Chinese firms which create problems cannot grow very well in this region. In calling for talks, the Group thinks that good governance is necessary and will lead to talks between both sides. The CASS team said that the Chinese government controls the country's private sector and it has the organization that manages the governance of its organizations. The Group tries to use academic information as evidence to support its claims. It also tries to find a suitable place for holding the talks, such as the Chinese Embassy in Thailand if China accepts and confirms in having the talks. Team members and the Group continued to hold discussions on other developments in the Mekong region. Niwat said that the Group does not agree with the international relations and development strategies of the Thai government. Thailand is a small country. So it has to balance the influence and power of the US and China. However, Thailand is pro-China nowadays. The Group revealed that it discusses the Mekong issue not only with China, but also with many other countries, such as the US, Japan, and Australia. The Group does not turn down funding and development projects from China as long as they benefit Thailand. Nonetheless, Thailand cannot accept all funding and development projects. China has to play its part in managing its projects and funding supporting sustainable development for the people. Moreover, development should benefit both sides. It is not just building factories and hiring locals as laborers. For example, if China wants to cooperate with Thailand in rice, it can bring in its innovation to develop rice and help people to introduce more products and raise their income. Chinese firms should not only cooperate with the local investors but also work with the local people. The CASS team raised its concern that the Thai side will not receive funding from China to conduct joint research on the Mekong issues as it may want to keep some information confidential. Niwat responded that both sides should share hydrological data that can be revealed for a start, and then they could proceed to talk about joint research. To him, some research is full of biases nowadays. To him, most of the Chinese research is conducted to support the building of dams.

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Figure 1: Mr. Niwat Roykaew, Chief of the Rak Chiang Khong Group, and MFU and CASS team members

July 23, 2019 MFU and CASS teams traveled to Huay Luek Village, Wiang Kaen District to hold a seminar with the locals on the impact of the Pak Beng Dam. They visited the fish conservation area in the Mekong River. The conservation zone aims to provide the area in the river for fish to lay eggs and preserve fish species when 20 percent of fish species are left. There are more than 1,300 fish species in the Mekong River, 100 of those live in the waters of Chiang Khong. The locals revealed that the decreasing fish catch is caused by dam building, rapid blastings in the upper stream, the misuse of materials to catch the fish, chemicals from agriculture, and wetland invasions. When China releases water in the dry season, it kills Kai (local river weed) and other plants that grow on the rapids. Some birds also cannot breed in this area. As a result, the locals lose their income as they cannot farm in the coastal areas. So they have to change their agricultural life.

Figure 2: the fish conservation area

In the afternoon, the research teams traveled to Boon Rueang Village to hold a seminar with the locals on the impact of banana plantations and conducted a field trip to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge IV in Chiang Khong District. 5


Background of Huay Luek Village Huay Luek Village is located in Muangyai Subdistrict, Wiang Kaen District. The teams held talks with former heads of the village and locals, including Mr. Thongsuk Intawong, former head of the village and head of the Muangyai Subdistrict committee. The committee has 82 members and is responsible for 10 villages in the Subdistrict. Huay Luek Village is the only village that borders the Mekong River. It also borders Krok Luang Village in Huay Xai District, Xayaburi Province, Laos. It was established in 1882, formerly known as Konkum village. There are 114 households and 414 people. In the last 3 decades, main jobs of the locals are in fishery and agriculture.

Figure 3: the map of Wiang Kaen District

The locals grew rice on the hill for their own consumption, as there was no farmland for growing rice. About 50 percent of households grew rice in small plots of land (about 5 rais each). Nowadays, rice plantation is decreasing, as some farmers go to work as contractors. 10 percent of them work in the district and 2 percent in other provinces. They also work as employees in Bangkok and other provinces. Agricultural products of the district are pomelo, rubber, corn, and rice. Most of the income is from agriculture. About 8 households of the village do businesses with Laos. They trade agricultural products and construction materials. One percent of the villagers also trades with China. Many locals in this village are Lao nationals who come from Luang Prabang Province by boat. Luang Prabang is located about 500 kilometers from Thailand’s border. These people have Thai nationality and legal status in Thailand. People in the area from Pak Ta to Huay Xai Districts can cross the border to Thailand by boat without a border pass in attending local ceremonies. If they want to cross the borders legally, they would have to go to the permanent crossing point in Chiang Khong District. Jam Pong Village and Huay Luek Village have a border trade checkpoint. People can register their names and surnames to inform the authority at these points without using a border pass. After the registration, they are allowed to stay in Laos for not more than 3 days. Regarding 6


the import of laborers from Laos, Thai employers would have to inform the authority about the amount of labor and time when the laborers come to the country. These Lao laborers cannot go outside the district. If they go outside and get caught by the police, the authority will not be responsible for this offence. The authority always monitors the migrant workers in the district, so much so that there are not that many smugglings and crimes. Moreover, Thailand has laws and regulations that employers would be responsible for their workers who commit crimes. Employers have to check profiles of laborers before hiring them. The authority has a data record of migrant workers. As a result, no laborers can cross the border by themselves. Huay Luek Village has fewer businesses using migrant workers. They also do not allow these workers to work monthly. Instead, they let them come to Thailand in the morning and go back to Laos in the evening. Some men in the village have married Laotian women. At present, 23 villagers could not get the Thai nationality because they were born in Laos. Some Laotians in the village got their Thai nationality when the Nationality Act was not so strict. After 1994, the government implemented the Nationality Act more strictly. As a result, some of the Laotians have not got their Thai nationality until now. While a child from Thai parents will get the Thai nationality and rights, a child from a Laotian mother who migrated to the country will get a 13-number identification. A child born from Laotian parents will get nothing in the country, except education in a public school. For public welfare, migrants will get a yearly golden card for waiving medical charges. But they have to buy the card and can use only in the village. Impact of Dams and the rapid blasting project on Huay Luek Village In 2003-2004, there were around 80 fishing boats. Most of the locals did fishing for their income that supported tuition fees for kids and other expenses. They could catch more than 4050 fish, worth more than 10,000 baht, per day in the fishing season. The fishermen got at least 3,000-4,000 baht per day per boat. The number of fishing boats was decreased to 30 in 20052007. At that time, the locals did not know the cause for the change of the water level in the Mekong River. There are only 10-12 fishing boats this year. Fishermen have become farmers or employers. Some do illegal farming. Some have gone to find jobs in Bangkok. Since 2003, the village has severe floods and droughts. The water from the hills flows very fast as it does not have the water from the river to support it. That affects agriculture. The locals learnt about the situation in the Mekong River from the Rak Chiang Khong Group in 2004-2005. In 2008, China released some water from the dam and flooded the locals' plantations. The water floods rapids in the river in the dry season. Kai cannot grow. Women and children in the village depend on selling Kais as their source of income. In that way, they are financially independent as they can pay their expenses and tuition fees. Without the fish and kai, they are not self-reliant and have to rely on agricultural products that depend on the market price. However, most locals cannot change to agricultural production in coastal areas along the Mekong River. They have to buy crops from local markets. They have to change their way of life. They have been affected by the change of the river but cannot adapt to the situation in time. The locals have lost their sources of income. As a result, there are more crimes, drug smugglings, and other social problems in the village. China has never shared the schedule for water releasing. It wants to blast rapids in the river. It is not necessary as a 300-ton ship can pass through the waterway from Laos to Thailand nowadays. The Thai government has never come and shared the knowledge and information on the situation in the Mekong River with the locals. As a result, the locals have no idea about the benefits of cargo ships from China. They do not really oppose the development, but they want the government to recognize their problems and provide measures and compensations for them when they face problems. 7


Figure 4: rapids in the Mekong River

Regarding the compensation, the locals would like to use the case of the Pak Beng Dam as an example. The Lao government has taken the land of some villages. The area included a 136year village with no certificate of ownership. As a result, the villagers do not have the right to receive any compensation from the government. The government has never informed the locals about the increase of the water level in the Mekong River and floods from the dam construction. Instead of the dam development in the Mekong River, the locals propose an infrastructure development project from Huay Luek Village to Oudomxay Province in Laos located about 46 kilometers away. This route will connect with the bridge in Oudomxay to China and Vietnam. If China builds roads and brings in more tourists and trade along the route, the locals will get some benefits. In the case of the waterway in the Mekong River, ships can dock only at a port. The port owner will get some income, while the locals get nothing. The locals also want to export the pomelo, a major agricultural product of the village, to the Chinese markets. However, they do not know how to gain access to the Chinese markets. The CASS team responded to the locals on the trade route and the access to the Chinese markets. They shared the Chinese government’s perspective on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that if China would like to be rich, it has to fix roads first. Because roads will create trade routes and the exchange of products and reduce transportation costs. So China creates many infrastructure projects. However, it needs laws and regulations to support trade routes. Moreover, it is difficult for the Chinese government to meet with local people in Thailand and listen to local opinions. They have to talk with the Thai government and let the Thai government bring them to meet with the locals. China has to negotiate with each level step-by-step. Regarding the access to the Chinese markets, they said that the middleman is a major obstacle. Thai and Chinese governments also find it difficult to improve the situation. China tries to trade goods through an online platform, bypassing the middleman. However, it takes time. They expect that trade will increase after the completion of trade routes. China recognizes that the Thai government may also need time to improve the situation. As a result, China is trying to change its strategy. Negotiations at government-to-government level have been decreased. Chinese youths have been sent out to conduct cultural exchange with the locals in other countries, aiming to better understand locals’ livelihood and bringing back information to the Chinese government.

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Figure 5: MFU and CASS team members hold talks with the locals of Huay Luek Village

Background of Boon Rueang Village MFU and CASS teams discussed with the locals in the village on the Chiang Rai Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and the Chinese investment. The village has 228 households and 696 people. Some villagers do businesses outside the village. The income of the locals is about 30,000 baht per year per household. The income is from trade, civil service, and agriculture. A household has about 50 rais of farmland. The locals grow rice, corn, rubber, and cassava. They cultivate rice farming 2 times per year. There is a 3,000-rai forest area in the village. It is very important to the locals. They evaluate the economic value of the forest. The total value in using the forest is 125 million baht per year. The locals receive benefits from forest products worth 14 million baht per year. In addition, the forest supports an ecosystem worth of 111 million baht per year. Villagers divide the forest area into 3 zones and 9 plots. These areas can absorb carbon dioxide up to 172,000 tons per year. It can reduce the impact of climate change.

Figure 6: a villager shows the map of Boon Rueang forest

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village

The impact of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and the Chinese investment on the

The Thai government has announced the setting up of the SEZ in 10 provinces, including Chiang Rai Province. The SEZ in Chiang Rai Province covers more than 900,000 rais in 3 districts and 21 subdistricts. The authority wants to build an industrial community. It also wants to incorporate the forest area of the village as part of the SEZ. The authority investigated and measured the forest area to provide land for Chinese investors without asking the opinions and willingness of the locals. The government has provided some privileges for Chinese investors, including the reduction of 8 percent of tax and hiring of unskilled laborers from neighboring countries. As a result, the locals do not get any benefit from the SEZ. However, the government has already started the SEZ plan. It built roads, bridges, and high-speed railways to support the SEZ. Chinese investors also came to the SEZ in Chiang Rai for sightseeing and looked for land to invest. They preferred areas around the border area. However, they cannot buy lands due to the high price. The major reason is that Thai investors have already bought nearby lands before them. So, Chinese investors look for public land with privileges provided by the government instead. The locals are not really against the SEZ. They only disagree with the building of industries in the forest area. The area is a food chain and a big detention basin. If the government changes this area into an industrial area, it will affect the food security, wood usage, and ecosystem in the Ing and Mekong river basin. The locals from Boon Rueang Village also talk with people from other villages. They have found out that some of the people from other villages would like to sell their lands to investors. Then the locals from Boon Rueang Village try to show them the reasons why they should protect their forest and environment. The forest of the village is more than 300 years old. To create a sustainable future, it is important to protect the environment, grow herbs, and make furniture from woods. They provided the information about their forest and environment to the government. As a result, the government dismissed the use of the forest area, but not the construction of the SEZ. The exemption areas include Boon Rueang, Thung Ngew, and Mae Sai’s tobacco forests. Currently, Chiang Rai is the only province of the SEZ provinces in Thailand that the government cannot provide land for investors. Investors have to find and buy land by themselves. The locals insist that they do not really oppose the SEZ. However, they want the government to clarify the information and details of the plan and also hold talks with the locals to let them participate in the development of the SEZ. They want to provide the labor, materials and products for Chinese investors rather than let Chinese firms build factories and bring their own people to work in the SEZ. The CASS team shared some information from the Chinese side. For holding talks with the local people about the SEZ, China did hold talks for the first time with the locals in Myanmar. When the Chinese government wants to initiate a project, they will hold talks at the government level first and then hold talks with the local people. At present, they have already changed their strategy on a big scale. For the case of the SEZ, the Chinese government will hold talks with the local people before they begin the project. Regarding the development in the Mekong River, the locals said that more than 54 varieties of fish from the river come to tributaries for breeding in the forest area of the village in the monsoon season. As a result of the development in the headwaters, the number of fish has begun to decrease. Local varieties of fish have decreased from more than 200 varieties to about 100 varieties. When the ecosystem is damaged, the local livelihood is affected. The Chinese 10


government tries to recover forests and reduce the number of golf courses in its country. As such, it should not destroy other countries’ forests too. For example, China’s developments in Laos have destroyed the relationship between marginalized people and their environment. The local traditional system was also destroyed. Chinese investors have been increasing monoculture farming around the Mekong region. Monoculture farming uses more chemicals. They planted 800,000 banana trees in 1,750-rai plantations in the Ing river basin. By nature, a banana tree does not need much water. However, the bananas planted by the Chinese are genetically modified organisms that need much water. As a result, a banana tree needs 20 liters of water. 800,000 banana trees use a lot of water from the Ing River. Farmers also release chemicals into the river that affect fish and other plantations. The locals investigated the water quality with the Thai Regional Environment Office 1, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. They found that the water quality of the Ing River was at a critical and dangerous level.

Figure 7: MFU and CASS team members hold talks with the locals of Boon Rueang Village

July 24, 2019 The MFU team and CASS team traveled to Sob Kok Village, Chiang Saen District to hold talks with the locals on the impact of the Chiang Saen Port and the SEZ. In the afternoon, they went to Mae Kum Village, Chiang Saen District to hold talks with the locals on the impact of the mineral separation plant. Background of Sob Kok Village and the Impact of the Chiang Saen Port and the Special Economic Zone Sob Kok Village has about 400 people and 90 households. The Thai government took their lands to build the Chiang Saen Port. The authority held talks with the locals 2-3 times when different opinions were expressed. Some of the locals agreed with the building of the port for development, while the rest wanted to conserve the area for fishing. The former group has more people. Nonetheless, there were not many locals from the village joining the talks. As a result, there was no firm conclusion. After the talks, the government expropriated lands from the locals. It promised that the port would offer jobs for the locals. At present, there are only 2 people getting a job at the port. The port brought laborers from Chiang Saen District as they are more skillful and experienced than the locals. However, the port could not make profits, as it has to compete with the 2 other private ports in the area. Actually, the port does not benefit the locals. It is used 11


for transporting goods that come from outside the village and these goods are sent to Laos and Myanmar.

Figure 8: the water level of the Mekong River at Sob Kok Village

The government also wants lands at both sides of the entry road of the port to build the SEZ. It investigated the land area in 2005 and wanted lands near the port. The locals would like to get 1 million baht per rai for compensation, but the government could pay them only 300,000 baht per rai. So the locals do not want to sell their lands. Until now, the locals have not got any information on the SEZ. The locals said that they have lost their land and fishing because of the government project. In the past, there was a big group of fishermen in this village. They divided the fishing area into the north side and the south side. They managed the flow of the river and protected the area from woods and rocks that obstruct the fish flow. When the water level is raised, woman villagers caught the fish by using local materials. The locals could catch the fish in the tributary in the farm. Nowadays, the water level in the Mekong River is uncertain as a result of the impact of the port and dams in the upper stream. The port affects the area for fish breeding. Dams affect the waterway for the fish to lay eggs. The number of fishing boat has decreased from 28-30 to 7-8. It is very difficult to do fishing now. Fishermen have become laborers in recent years. They have to rent a farm and grow corns when they cannot do fishing. The government promoted other occupations for the locals as a solution for the fishermen. It organized some workshops, such as a carpentry workshop. The locals joined the workshop at times. However, the workshop is not conducted continuously and there is no market to sell products from the workshop.

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Figure 9: MFU and CASS team members hold talks with the locals of Sob Kok Village

Mae Kum Village and the impact of the mineral separation plant The teams went to the Mae Kum Tambon Health Promotion Hospital to hold talks with the locals led by Mr. Somphop Chaiwong, Director of the Hospital in the afternoon. Mr. Somphop said that the discussions on the development of this village should be participated by a network of 4 countries, including China, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar to deal with transboundary crimes and connect relationships among the countries. The locals do support development and investments. However, the investments should not affect the environment and the locals’ livelihood. Some projects create negative effects on Thailand. He gave the project of Nuntan Group Company as an example of a negative investment. The company imported minerals from Shan State, Myanmar. They dug minerals from the Mekong River in Myanmar’s boundary and brought them to the Golden Triangle in Thailand. They have a project to build a mineral separation plant in Chiang Saen District covering 4 villages, including Mae Kum Village. The company propagated the following: 1. Thailand will receive income from exporting tin; 2. The company will help the locals to establish a cooperative; 3. The company will preserve the religion; and 4. The company will provide activities, including social activities, education, and job training for the locals. However, the locals think that these promises cannot compensate for their loss of the environment. So they protest against the project by using information from various sources. They are particularly concerned with metal substances that mix with mineral scraps. This amount of soiled mass and tailing will continue to increase. If these materials seep into the water and soil, they would affect tributaries of the village that flow to the Mekong River, underground water, agriculture, water for consumption, and locals’ health. The plant will use water for mineral dressing that can cause droughts. Droughts will affect water transportation and tourism. The company also does not create jobs for the locals. The company plans to transport minerals by truck to Laem Chabang, Chon Buri Province, and then sell to other countries. According to a study conducted by the locals, the big tin markets are China and Japan. China and Myanmar do not allow mineral entrepreneurs to build their mineral separation plants in their own countries. So, these investors would have to find places in other countries.

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In October 2018, there was a survey for locals' opinions on the project. The authority is supposed to hold 2 rounds of community talks. However, the second round is delayed. Now the project is reviewed by the office for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The community talks are a part of the EIA assessment process. If locals disagree with the project, the authority of the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will approve the result of the community talks. However, the locals cannot vote. They can only share their opinions and send them to the authority as information. The company also tries to proceed with measures to ensure less impact on the environment. If the ministries and the office of the EIA approve the project, the company can build the separation plant legally. The locals had sent letters to all related organizations to stop the project. Thai Prime Minister sent some officials to listen to locals’ opinions. Currently, the company works legally. When the Thai Prime Minister signs the document, the project will be approved. That is why the locals have to protest against the project and express their points of view. The CASS team shared with the audience the Chinese experience. 20 years ago, there were mines built and operated without listening to the locals in China. As a result, many people died of the same disease. The government admitted to media that it failed to manage these mines and caused people’s death. They allowed the media to conduct a documentary to share the information and impact of mines. They compensated the people and closed small mines. However, big mines still continue to operate, because they were necessary for the country. They tried to use clean technology to protect the environment. When there is fewer number of mines, it is easier to control. China tries to develop the quality, not quantity of mines. It thinks that it cannot avoid environmental impacts of mining. As such, it needs to prepare for a compensation plan. For China, it cannot just think of the environment, but also development. In this light, China’s cement factory in Myanmar also faces the same problem. What China is doing is to cooperate with the Myanmar government to develop technology for a clean environment.

Figure 10: MFU and CASS team members hold talks with the locals of Mae Kum Village

Some locals from Mae Kum Village said that they wanted to cooperate with China in the project that does not affect the environment. They are afraid of Chinese businesses. For example in the tourism sector, Chinese firms use Thai nominees to do business and bring Chinese tourists to stay at their hotels. For the industrial sector, Chinese investors provide many privileges to the locals initially. However, they leave pollution and residues when they leave the country. The locals are also affected by the droughts as a result of the dam buildings in the upper stream. Moreover, they depend on China for agricultural products. The fact is there are many Chinese goods coming to the country. The problem is, it is very difficult to export Thai goods to the Chinese markets. 14


The Chinese factory will also cut the prices of the products from the locals. So they want Chinese firms to trade with the locals directly, without the middlemen. July 25, 2019 The teams from MFU and CASS conducted a field trip to the Golden Triangle and Don Sao Island to see the border Special Economic Zone operated by Chinese investors. In the afternoon, they traveled to Mae Sai District to hold talks with Ms. Pakamas Viera, Deputy Chairman of the Provincial Chamber of Commerce on trade and investment in border cities of Chiang Rai Province. After that, they visited the Mae Sai Gate to observe the trade route and people’s livelihood. Don Sao Island Don Sao Island is located in Ton Pheung District, Bokeo Province, Laos. It is the SEZ invested by Dok Ngew Kham Group, a Chinese firm. It has rented the area from the Lao government for 99 years. There is the King Roman Casino on the island. Tourists can take ferryboats from Chiang Saen to Don Sao Island. Most of the goods come from Tachileik, Myanmar imported from China. In this way, sellers in the Island sell Chinese products to Chinese tourists. Sellers are mostly from Laos and Myanmar. The locals in the area get nothing from the SEZ. It looks like a border market in Mae Sai District, but newer and cleaner. A Lao seller said that the Chinese firm has put aside a part of the SEZ and provided a market for the locals. It has waived the fee for local sellers for 2 years. After that, they will collect some fees. Now, it is almost 2 years, so they are deciding about the fee issue. However, it is learnt that the trade here is better than that of Tachileik. The CASS team thought that the SEZ does not benefit the locals and Laos. The Chinese government also does not really know about this SEZ and the Chinese firm in Don Sao Island. This may affect the locals and Laos. Trade and Investment in Border Cities of Chiang Rai Province The teams from MFU and CASS traveled to Mae Sai District and held talks with Ms. Pakamas Viera, Deputy Chairman of the Provincial Chamber of Commerce. She shared with the teams some very informative development on trade and investment in border cities of Chiang Rai Province, especially with China.

Figure 11: MFU and CASS team members discuss on trade and investment in border cities with Ms. Pakamas Viera

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Chiang Rai Province has signed a sister city Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Yunnan Province in 2000. Chiang Rai Provincial Chamber of Commerce has the responsibility to provide trade and investment information for the Thai parliament and the Thai senate. There are 3 gates from Thailand to China, including Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong, and Mae Sai Districts. Mae Sai District is located 90 kilometers from China’s border in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. People can travel to Chiang Tung and Muang La of Myanmar through this gate. It is also located about 480 kilometers from Taunggyi, Myanmar that links to Ruili, Dehong, and Kunming, China. Chiang Saen District is a port city and is located 273 kilometers away from China. Chiang Khong District has the R3A route. The route passes Bokeo and Luang Nam Tha Provinces of Laos. It is located 248 kilometers away from Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. People have to pay fees at this gate. Mae Sai District has the highest trade volume with Shan State, Myanmar. The route from Mae Sai District to Ruili, China is shorter than the route from Mae Sot District, Tak Province. Almost all areas of Shan State is bordering with China. It is a very important route and has a railway to transport goods. Thaunggyi is the capital city of the state. Thailand has the only gate to Myanmar in Mae Sai District. About 80 percent of the cargo ships stop at Soah-Loi Port, Myanmar. There are 11 banks in Mae Sai District. Popular currencies used are baht, US dollar, and RMB. Exports in cash in the district are worth more than 60,000 million baht. There are many Chinese goods going through the Mae Sai Gate to Myanmar. There are more than 400 trucks per day. At this point, the businessmen have to pay 3 percent of tax to Shan State. People prefer to transport goods by car at this point because of the cheap tax. The gate opens at 6.30 am-09.00 pm. At the second checkpoint in Myanmar’s territory, the businessmen pay tax to the central government in Nay Pyi Taw. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) is a major problem for trade routes in Myanmar, as they do not allow people and goods to go to another gate in Ruili. If the UWSA's armed force is moved away, the trade along this route will flow easier. In the case of the R3B route, trade is not allowed to pass through as well. This is because the UWSA also dominates the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA). Chiang Lap Bridge financed by China linking Myanmar and Laos is located in Shan State, 90 kilometers away from Thailand. It is located on the middle route between Thailand and China. Goods transportation also cannot pass through this way due to the presence of the UWSA. For the Pang Hai Checkpoint that border Luang Nam Tha, Laos and Muang Mang, China, it is still not operational. Chiang Tung-Mong La route in Myanmar, the point that R3A and R3B roads meet, is dominated by the UWSA. Da Ping Check Point has a conflict between the Myanmar government and the UWSA. There are always wars and conflicts between the Shan State Army and the UWSA at the Salween Bridge. Ms. Pakamas said that the Chinese government is the only country that can make a deal with the UWSA. President Xi Jinping sent some Chinese officials to hold talks with officials from Shan State, the Myanmar government, and the UWSA. Some meetings have been organized to solve border issues, such as the meetings between the Thai and Myanmar militaries and the meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion Border Liaison Office Cooperation Anti Transnational Organized Crime (GMS-BLOCATOC), the meetings among officials from China, Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. Participants talk about transportation problems in 12 checkpoints in 4 countries. Regarding Laos and Myanmar, the Chinese government would like these countries to encourage their ethnic groups in Shan State of Myanmar and Luang Nam Tha Province of Laos to 16


grow rubber instead of opium. The Chinese markets will purchase the products. Myanmar has also planned to sign an agreement with China on special tax privileges among neighboring countries that border each other in 68 points. Ms. Pakamas said that China has already helped Laos and Myanmar. She proposed that China should encourage the implementation of the Chiang Rai-Yunnan sister city MOU and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC). Currently, there is the Joint Committee on Coordination of Commercial Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River (JCCCN) among 4 countries. However, Thai entrepreneurs still have problems in exporting goods to China. The CASS team responded by indicating that China offers many assistance to Laos and Myanmar as they are weak. These two countries are willing to receive the funding and assistance. In the past, China created projects for them. Now it has changed its strategy. It wants Mekong countries to create their own projects and it will support funding and facilities for them. China also wants to propose a security development plan to cooperate with Mekong countries, but not with their militaries as the military issue is a sensitive one. Ms. Pakamas added that there are 2 problems in the Mekong Region. First, Thai goods are very difficult to have access to the Chinese markets because of many rules and regulations. Thai goods have to be disguised as Lao goods or Myanmar goods to go into the Chinese markets. Second, Jinghong Dam does not announce the closing time of water flows in advance. It always closes water on National Day, Chinese New Year Day, and Songkran Day. Nowadays, China has agreed to inform the Mekong River Commission (MRC) on the time to release and close water from the dam. She also proposed that the Mongpalaew is the shallowest point of the Mekong River in Myanmar and Laos areas. If China can dredge the sand at this point, it is not necessary to blast the river. A Chinese ship needs 2.5-meter depth, while a Lao ship needs just 80-120 centimeter depth. If China dredges the river, a 300-500-ton ship can pass through the river. It should talk with Myanmar to dredge the sand from the river and sell it to China that needs sand to build railways. The Pha Sang is the narrowest stretch of the Mekong River. It is 20-meter deep. If China wants to expand the river, it should blast the river at this point. Ms. Pakamas wanted China to blast the river to facilitate trade. The blasting will not destroy the environment, as the areas along the river in Laos and Myanmar territories are forests. Nobody is living there. Thailand needs China’s help for trade between the two countries through the Mekong River, as this route is the cheapest way. Both sides should push forward infrastructure development. China should help Thai goods to have easier and direct access to the Chinese markets. July 26, 2019 The teams from MFU and CASS held a concluding meeting at the School of Social Innovation, Mae Fah Luang University. Mr. Niwat Roykaew from Rak Chiang Khong Group, and ARCID’s Study Group on China and the Mekong Region attended the meeting. They shared their experiences and opinions from the excursion. They discussed the definition of development, benefits, and stakeholders in the Mekong basin. NGOs of the Mekong River focused on conservation, while business sectors emphasized trade and investment. As a result, there are conflicts of interest even though these different groups need the same natural resources. The important question could be: what should be the future direction of the development in this region? Perhaps, sustainable development and stakeholder cooperation are very critical and could be the answer to this question.

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Figure 12: a group photo at the concluding meeting at the School of Social Innovation, MFU

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